By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
LOCAL activists are again calling on the government to implement the necessary tools to effectively address the needs of domestic violence victims.
They say more educational awareness is needed about the issue and also called for the creation of a special domestic unit in the police force.
Their calls come amid public outrage over the double homicide of a mother and daughter that occurred earlier this week, which police suspect is a result of a domestic dispute.
Women’s rights advocate Alicia Wallace (pictured) explained that Monday’s incident is just one of many that shows that there is a culture of violence in the country, which often targets women and children.
Deeming the issue “a public health crisis”, the Equality Bahamas director said the country now needs to address the broader issue of violence which is multifaceted and learn how to communicate effectively in nonviolent ways.
“We’ve been calling for more attention to gender-based violence and we have also been calling attention to corporal punishment,” she said. “We can excuse a woman being ‘disciplined’ by her husband or her boyfriend. We can excuse very extreme discipline of children by their parents or caretakers, but we will not excuse the murder of children.
“All of a sudden it’s an issue now that children are being affected, but we need to understand that violence, generally speaking, is a public health crisis because that’s what it is.
“We can no longer isolate these issues. What we’re dealing with is an inability to successfully communicate particularly in conflict. We need to learn across the board how to communicate in crisis and how to express displeasure without resorting to violence.”
Ms Wallace also said evidence has shown that domestic violence has increased in the country since the COVID-19 restrictions were first introduced.
Having known beforehand how the strict measures would impact the most vulnerable populations, Ms Wallace said activists have been sounding the alarm and calling for the government to introduce “feminist policy guidelines specifically for COVID-19.”
“We called for a specific domestic violence unit within the police department to ensure that there are people that are actually trained to deal with these calls because it’s no secret that people have made domestic violence calls or shown up to make a statement and have been dismissed,” she told The Tribune yesterday.
“There are times when police officers can be quite flippant. We need a specific unit with people who are sensitized to the issues and I mean are trained to properly respond to people.
“They need to be properly trained in not only responding and finding out what they need, but also making referrals. People need to be referred to the hospital, or the clinic or Social Services in getting assistance with temporary housing which we don’t have enough of.”
Khandi Gibson, another activist, also shared similar sentiments to this newspaper.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Gibson said her non-profit organisation, FOAM, has assisted some 15 women, who are all victims of domestic violence.
“I’ve had people call me throughout the night saying ‘he’s fighting me, forcing me to have sex. Oh, he abused me. He slapped me. He ripped up my shirt,’” she said. “And they’re calling me because they don’t want to go to the police and they just want someone to talk to them.”
She added that the group, with its limited resources, has been able to remove several women from dangerous situations.
However, the activist said there is now a risk involved in trying to help victims, one that could potentially lead to damaging consequences.
“When you take in the domestic violence (victim) around you, you don’t know if they have boyfriends who could shoot up your house. Someone could attack you and your family and do some stuff. They could hurt you and hurt your family,” she said. “And it’s sad because nobody trying to get hurt even if you want to help them.”
To better address the needs of victims of domestic violence, Ms Gibson said there needs to be more government support to assist those living in unhealthy and unsafe environments.
“Number one, I think Urban Renewal’s (operation hours) need to be 24 hours. Two, I think that a week’s stay at a motel for the domestic violence situation needs to be up more than a week because a week is no time for anyone to try to get help and then there needs to be a gender-based police violence (unit) at every police station.”
In mid-September, the director of gender and family affairs at the Department of Social Services said reports of domestic violence had increased by two percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Jacinta Higgs also revealed at the time that there were 33 calls about domestic violence to The Bahamas Crisis Centre between February and April.